How Long Things Can Stay on Your Credit Report

Summary: Do you have questions about how long certain items can stay on your credit report? If so, you've come to the right place. Below, you'll find a comprehensive list of negative items and how long they are permitted to stay on your reports.

The Purpose of This List

How long do negative items stay on my credit report? This seems to be one of the most common questions among consumers these days. It's also a topic that brings a lot of people to our website every day. For example, in January 2009 we published an article that explains how long a foreclosure can stay on your credit report. That page is now one of the top ten pages on our site, in terms of traffic (out of more than 2,000 articles).

According to the author, Brandon Cornett: "When I was researching that article, I realized that people are very concerned about negative information on their credit reports. My piece focused on foreclosures, but that's one of many negative items. People want to know how long all of these items can stay on their credit reports -- charge offs, bankruptcy, civil judgments, you name it."

How Long a Negative Item Can Stay on Your Report

Let's start off with the easy part, the 7-to-10 rule. After that, we will discuss all of the negative items one at a time. Here's the general rule. Aside from your personal information, most items on your credit report have an "expiration date." This is the maximum period of time they can stay on your credit reports, according to federal law.

Most things have a time limit of either seven or ten years. That's the easy part. So now the question is: Which items come off after seven years, and which ones can stay for ten? Here's an easy way to remember:

7-Year Items

10-Year Items

Most negative entries have to come off your credit report after seven years. This includes:

  • Mortgage default / foreclosure
  • Deed in lieu of foreclosure
  • Late payments on credit cards
  • Credit account charge-offs
  • Closed accounts
  • Unpaid debts
  • Unpaid medical bills
  • Collection items
  • Civil judgments (such as court-ordered payments)
  • Tax liens

Legally, there are only a couple of items that can stay on your credit reports for ten years:

  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy
  • Chapter 10 bankruptcy

It's wise to check your reports periodically, to make sure the items come off when they're supposed to. We recommend doing this once a year. Unfortunately, it's fairly common for negative entries to stay on a credit report beyond the legal limits. In such cases, you must dispute the item through the reporting agency that produced the erroneous report. This would either be TransUnion, Equifax or Experian. (You have three reports, one from each of these companies.)

A-to-Z List of Credit Report Entries

In order to create this list, we reviewed more than six months of emails sent in from our readers. We compiled all of the questions that pertained to credit reports. Then we made a list of negative items mentioned in these emails. Some of these items overlap (such as late payments and medical bills), but we wanted to list everything for the benefit of all readers. 

So here it is, an A-to-Z list of negative entries and how long they can stay on your credit reports:

Bad Credit: This is a general term people use to refer to negative items on a credit report. We have included it on this list because it frequently occurs within the emails sent by readers. All of the items listed below can be classified as "bad credit" information. They can stay on your reports for seven to ten years, depending on the type of information. See the details below.

Bad Debt: This term is used to describe any unpaid debt. Generally speaking, this kind of thing can stay on your credit report for up to seven years, after which it must be removed. Bad debt comes in many forms, ranging from unpaid medical bills to store credit cards. Certain types of unpaid accounts (such as federal student loans) can stay on there longer.

Bankruptcy: A bankruptcy filing can stay on your credit report for up to ten years, from the date of the relief order or the date of adjudication (whichever applies). This applies to personal bankruptcy filings, such as Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. This item can be found in Section 605A of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Canceled Credit Card: If you cancel one of your credit cards, the account can remain on your credit reports beyond the cancellation. It can be reported for up to seven years from the date of closure. Your report should indicate whether the account was paid off entirely, or if there's a balance remaining. An unpaid balance can have a negative effect on your FICO credit score. You can also hurt your score by closing older cards, so use caution when doing this.

Chapter 7: See "bankruptcy" entry above. This type of filing can remain on your report for a period of up to ten years. Chapter 7 is where you ask the court to discharge or eliminate most of your outstanding debt.  

Chapter 13: This type of bankruptcy filing usually includes a court-approved repayment plan. In other words, the person is making some effort to pay off the debts (as opposed to Chapter 7, where they ask the courts to discharge the debt). By law, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can stay on your credit report up to ten years, the same as a Chapter 7 filing. But the reporting agencies will sometimes remove a Chapter 13 entry after seven years, since it usually involves some form of repayment. But you can only dispute the item after the full ten-year period has passed.

Charge Off: This is a common entry resulting from the use (or misuse) of store credit cards. When a customer fails to pay off such a card, the merchant will often "charge off" the account. This means the creditor believes the debt is unlikely to be repaid. Thus, it is treated the same as late payments on a credit card, from a reporting perspective. So you've probably already guessed the time limit. A charge-off can stay on your report for up to seven years from the date of entry.

Civil Judgments: These items must be removed after seven years from the date of entry, or when the statute of limitations has expired (whichever comes later). For more information about these, you can refer to Section 605A-2 of the FCRA.

Civil Suits: See the above entry for civil judgments. The same applies here. Seven years.

Closed Accounts: See the above entry for canceled credit cards. The same rule applies to any type of credit account that has been closed. Seven years.

Collections: This is a general term that applies to an unpaid debt that gets sent to a debt-collection agency. The seven-year rule applies here as well. Debt collectors will often pursue old debts that are beyond the seven-year reporting period. They buy these debts for pennies on the dollar, and then they try to recover as many of them as possible. It's big business. But as far as your credit report is concerned, seven years is the limit for unpaid debts.

Credit Inquiries: When somebody tries to access your credit history for some reason, it shows up on your credit report. This is referred to as a credit inquiry. There are different types of inquiries. They show up when you check your own credit report, and when lenders and creditors do the same. For example, when you apply for an auto loan, the lender will "pull your credit" to see how you've managed your finances in the past. Inquiries generally stay on your report for two years.

Deed in Lieu of foreclosure: See the "foreclosure" entry below. The same rule applies here. Seven years.

Default: A mortgage default occurs when a homeowners stops making payments on a mortgage loan. So it's treated the same as any other missed payments, from a reporting perspective. The seven-year rule applies. A mortgage default can eventually lead to a foreclosure scenario. Refer to the "foreclosure" entry below for more information.

Eviction: If you are evicted for not paying your rent, then the landlord or property owner has probably reported the missed payments to the credit bureaus. In this case, you can file it under 'L' for late payments. Thus, it can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

Foreclosure: This is the legal process through which a lender takes possession of a home, due to the homeowner's failure to make payments. A foreclosure can do serious damage to your credit score when it first shows up on your report -- more than 200 points worth of damage. It can stay on your reports for up to seven years, after which it must be removed by the reporting agency. 

Judgments: See the entry for "civil judgments" above. Unless it's related to bankruptcy, a judgment can only stay on your report for seven years.

Late Payments: Any time you fail to make payments on a debt that you owe, the lender or creditor has the right to report it to the credit-reporting agencies. This kind of thing shows up in the account history section of your report. It can remain there for up to seven years. Many of the other items on this list fall under this category.

Medical Bills: This is one of the most common questions we receive, when it comes to credit reporting. As health insurance companies continue to scale back on coverage, consumers are stuck with more of the medical bills. When these bills go unpaid, they can show up on your credit report. They can stay on there for up to seven years, as with any other missed payments.

Short Sale: This is when a mortgage lender lets a homeowner sell a property for less than what they owe on the loan. It can be reported to the credit-reporting agencies in different ways, or not at all. So whether or not it goes onto your credit report depends on how the lender handles it. Most of the time, the lender will report the account closed but not paid in full. This means it will show up on your credit report as an unpaid debt obligation, and it can remain there for up to seven years. Short sales generally have less of an impact on your credit score, when compared to a foreclosure.

Tax Liens: A tax lien is generally placed on a person's property in response to unpaid taxes. It can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

Exceptions to the Rule

The rules outlined above apply to most credit-reporting scenarios. But there are certain exceptions to these rules. For example, these guidelines are not applicable for credit transactions involving $150,000 or more. There are other exceptions as well, but they are too numerous to list here. You can refer to the FCRA below, to learn more about these rules.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

If you have questions about any of these guidelines, we recommend that you refer to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It is the source document for all of the rules discussed in this article. The FCRA is a set of federal laws that regulate the credit-reporting industry. It's enfourced by the Federal Trade Commission. Everything discussed in this article can be found within this act.